A Response to the Despatch Magazine Part 1 of 3
by Dr. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Th.M, Ph.D
Director, Ariel Ministrie, Tustin, CA
The Despatch Magazine is produced by Endtime Ministries Assoc., based in Australia and put together by Wendy B. Howard and Wendy K. Beuster. I was sent a copy of the June 2000 (Vol. 12, No. 2) issue since it contained a rather vicious attack on myself and a number of other Messianic Jewish leaders, particularly Jacob Prasch. It made for rather tedious reading since it is 96 pages long, and not very edifying since it is nothing but one attack after another after another of various members of the Body of Christ. It is obvious that the Wendys are often attacking me and others, not based upon first-hand information, but purely on the fallacy of “guilt by association,” and/or on the basis of Jewishness, and/or on the basis of what translation these individuals choose to use.
It is not my purpose in this response to defend all those that are dealt with in this rather bleak periodical since the others, such as Jacob Prasch, are quite capable of defending themselves and certainly need no help from me. I suspect most of the others mentioned in the magazine will not bother to respond, either because they have long discovered that it is somewhat useless to try to reason with those who are blatantly anti-Semitic (it would be like arguing with those of the Flat Earth Society; no matter what pictorial evidence you show from space, it is simply labeled as part of the conspiracy and dismissed) or, more likely, because they do not even know they have been attacked. The Wendys never had the courage to contact me to ask me exactly where I do or do not stand, nor did they have the courage to send me an advance copy of what they were going to publish to check if these things were truly so. I suspect they followed the same policy with the others mentioned in the magazine: a total lack of courage and simple Christian charity to check the facts with those involved before going into print. The only reason I even knew of this attack on my person was because of a concerned Australian believer who went to the trouble of sending me a copy of the entire issue. I will not follow the same cowardly method that the Wendys have followed and produce this response without sending a copy to them. Anyone reading this can rest assured that a copy has been mailed to the Wendys and it is in their hands, whether or not they have chosen to read it.
Because I often minister in Australia, and since I will again be coming shortly for an extensive speaking tour of the country, I am sure this issue is going to be brought up by those who have read it. Therefore, I plan to give a detailed response to those sections where they either attack me or certain organizations and/or ministries I am familiar with where I know the statements are simply untrue. Thus, my plan is to go through the magazine, page by page, and respond to certain specific statements, but these will become somewhat repetitious since they keep repeating their attacks as if saying it enough times would make it true (a principle used in both Nazi and Communist propaganda). However, before going through it page by page, I think it is important to first state certain general principles and make some general observations and then I shall proceed to the more specific issues.
First Observation: It became painfully obvious after a few pages that the Wendys never bothered to read anything I have written, neither my books nor manuscripts. They obviously never listened to any of my teaching tapes, nor had they bothered to check Ariel Ministries’ web site to see what we do or do not teach and where we do or do not stand. Here, I am being kind to them by giving them the benefit of the doubt and accusing them only of ignorance. If they have read any of my material and know where I truly stand, then their problem is not willful ignorance, but deliberate lying and distortion. To give one example here (there will be others later), they accuse me of supporting the Ecumenical Movement. Yet in print I have clearly come out against the Ecumenical Movement, in print I have encouraged individuals in apostate churches to pull out and join Bible believing churches, and my ministerial credentials are with an association whose whole purpose of existing is to be in opposition to Liberalism and the Ecumenical Movement (more on this later as well). If they had read my material, they would know where I stand and, therefore, I am assuming they did not read it and, therefore, are simply guilty of ignorance, though it is a willful ignorance since my material is readily at hand. However, if they have read it, they are certainly guilty of a much greater sin. It should be noted what they ascribe to me is often the opposite of where my stand is publicly, both verbally and in print.
Second Observation: They tend to use terms such as “Messianic Movement” and then describe it as being somewhat monolithic in its beliefs and purposes and doctrines. Nothing can be farther from the truth. The term “Messianic Movement” is anything but a technical term and it is a very general term basically describing Jews who believe in Jesus as the Messiah. Within the movement there are all kinds of different doctrines and streams, no different than in any Gentile movement. But the Wendys keep imputing only one standard of the Messianic Movement, assuming it stands for all who would claim the title of “Messianic Jew” and then essentially build an elaborate strawman argument and proceed to huff and to puff. Often what they describe as being within the Messianic Movement is only true of a segment, but hardly the entirety. Let’s apply this type of logic in a different situation. Throughout the world there are many who call themselves Baptists. Among those who call themselves Baptists there are many who are part of the Ecumenical Movement, such as the American Baptist Convention, and there are others who deny the verbal inspiration of Scripture, as is true within certain parts of the Southern Baptist Convention. If I applied the Wendys’ logic to this, I would teach that the whole Baptist Movement is ecumenical and liberal. However, those who are familiar with Baptists know that nothing is farther from the truth. There are other Baptist groups that are very fundamental, such as the General Association of Regular Baptists, and the Bible Baptists, among others. It would be a sin and a lie for me to state that everyone who calls himself a Baptist is ecumenical and liberal. By the same token, because some who call themselves Messianic Jews ascribe to certain issues, it hardly warrants saying that this is what all Messianic Jews teach. The Messianic Movement is no more monolithic than the Baptists or Anglicans or others.
Third Observation: The Wendys keep denying that they are anti-Semitic, but anyone who understands the nature of anti-Semitism will certainly recognize the anti-Semitism found throughout the magazine. Anti-Semitism is not disliking a person who happens to be Jewish. Anti-Semitism is disliking someone or something because it is Jewish. The Wendys keep reacting to anything that is Jewish and see this as being negative. As I will point out when I go through the more detailed part of this response, over and over again they are reacting negatively because something is Jewish rather than whether, in essence, it is right or wrong in and of itself. At the same time, they deny over and over again that they are anti-Semitic; but their anti-Semitic addiction is similar to the addiction to alcohol. Persons who work with alcoholics can testify that most alcoholics will deny that they have an alcohol problem. They will often claim that they can “quit any time they want to,” and yet never realize that they never seem to be able to really free themselves from their passion for alcohol and their need for drunkenness. Most alcoholics simply refuse to recognize that they have a problem. As people who work with alcoholics can testify, the first step is to get an alcoholic to realize he does have a problem, and only then can one begin to help him out of it. Until that admission is there, it is virtually impossible to help anyone addicted to alcohol. Anti-Semitism tends to be a similar addiction with similar responses. It is amazing how many anti-Semites keep denying they are anti-Semitic, and yet display all of the attributes of anti-Semitism. The Wendys are exactly in that category. What are some of the attributes of anti-Semites? Anti-Semites react negatively to anything that could be Jewish; and even with things that are Jewish, they wish to deny its Jewishness. Although the Bible is obviously a product of Jews, they prefer to keep referring to it as “the Reformation Bible,” as if the Reformers were the ones who produced the Bible. Anti-Semites react to any Jewish symbol, ascribing it to some demonic influence, and the Wendys do this, ascribing the Star of David as a part of occultism. Another attribute of anti-Semitism is a phobia of some kind of a “Jewish conspiracy.” There is quite a bit of this phobia in this magazine, but it goes a step farther than most anti-Semitic phobias concerning world conspiracies. In this case, they accuse Messianic Jews of conspiring to take over the whole church! To understand much of what they are saying, in spite of their denial, it should be noted that they clearly come from an anti-Semitic frame of reference.
Fourth Observation: When they present evidence, the evidence is often based upon quoting what others have said about such-and-such or so-and-so, without actually going to the sources themselves. Therefore, they quote sources that tend to agree with their perspective without checking the legitimacy of these sources. On page two, however, they have the following disclaimer:
Despatch quotes from many sources, and cites many people. It is impossible to delve into every group, person, doctrine or association which the writers of these quotes may embrace. Therefore, the staff of Despatch may not necessarily agree with everything these writers stand for.
What a pathetic charade! One of the principles of investigative reporting is that if you do not have firsthand information, and must use secondary sources, you must always check the validity of these secondary sources to make sure they are in a position to speak knowledgeably about what they are ascribing. This is simple honesty that every publication that claims to be Christian should be following. While the Wendys prove their claims by quoting various sources, it is obvious that they do not know where these sources are really coming from, or what these sources really stand for, but because it helps to “prove” their case, they quote it as evidence and, therefore, “it must be true.” By their own admission, they do not check the sources for everything they quote. It is that kind of pattern that leads to gross error and misrepresentation. For example, if they wish to know what I believe, where I stand, and what I teach, then the right thing to do is to go to things I have taped or written by way of books, articles, or manuscripts. But this they obviously did not do. Whatever they think they know about me, they got from other sources that they would quote, but they did not feel any obligation to find out if the person or source they quoted was legitimate or qualified to present the truth. I can also tell by what they said about others mentioned in the article, whom I know, that they followed the same format. They did not bother checking with the original sources where these people stand on the issues they were attacking. They simply quote a secondary source which, by their own admission, they do not feel obligated to check. They then proceed to use that as final evidence of where these other Jewish believers stand. Again, I cannot take the time to defend those others whom they attack, making statements of them I know are not true, since this response will be long enough without it. The point to note here is that the Wendys are very dishonest in the way they gather their “factual” information.
Fifth Observation: Just as they seem to make the phrase “the Messianic Movement” to stand for one thing, they also seem to confuse the search for Jewish backgrounds to New Testament studies. They use the term “Hebrew Roots Movement” rather loosely and apply it in many situations where it simply does not apply. Therefore, it is important that I distinguish here between what is called “Hebrew Roots Movement” as over against what does not have a technical name, but which I represent, and that is getting into the Jewish historical backgrounds from which much of the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, came. Now let me clearly distinguish between the two. I will refer to the Hebrew Roots Movement as HRM and the search for Jewish backgrounds as simply JB; but, again, keep in mind that the latter does not have a technical name, nor does it need to have one since it is simply doing what should be natural in all biblical research. The HRM is a movement that claims that parts, or much, or even all (depending on who is advocating it), was originally written in Hebrew, but the Hebrew original is now lost. What we now have is just a poor Greek translation of the original Hebrew and all English versions are translations of the poor Greek translation of the original Hebrew New Testament. Therefore, to really understand the New Testament, we must attempt to find out what the original Hebrew was by translating the Greek back into the Hebrew and only then can we really see what it teaches. Furthermore, the HRM is often heavily dependent upon rabbinic literature and considers it to be virtually authoritative in making certain decisions. Obviously, this creates a great amount of problems for the doctrine of verbal inspiration and, therefore, leaders involved in these movements end up denying the inspiration of the New Testament and that opens the door to allowing rabbinic literature to have priority over the New Testament since, from their perspective, the New Testament we now have is not the original but a somewhat corrupted Greek translation. JB teaches the exact opposite. We firmly believe that the New Testament was written in Greek and that is why it is the Greek New Testament that has survived. Furthermore, we believe the New Testament to be as verbally inspired as the Hebrew and Aramaic Old Testament. Thus, rabbinic writings in no way take priority over the New Testament and the final authority is what the Scriptures (both Old and New Testaments) teach and not any other writings, be they rabbinic or otherwise. However, as all true Bible believers recognize, the Bible was not written from the framework of a twentieth century culture, nor a Protestant culture, it was written in the culture of the period from which specific books of the Bible come out. Therefore, to have a true and full understanding of what is being said, it is necessary to look at the historical frame of reference from which these biblical accounts come. For example, in dealing with Genesis, it is very helpful to understand the cultural frame of reference of Mesopotamia, Aramea, Canaan, Egypt, etc. To understand certain actions of the patriarchs, such as Abraham taking the handmaid Hagar to produce children, or Jacob buying the birthright from Esau, or Rachel stealing the household gods of her father, can be better understood if we understand the laws of the Ancient Middle East. To understand a number of points of the Joseph account in Genesis it is helpful to understand the historical and cultural frame of Egypt when these events occurred. To have a greater understanding of much of what happened throughout biblical history, it is very helpful to look at the backgrounds of Assyria, Babylonia, etc. No Bible believer will ever look at the documents of Babylonia, Assyria, Canaan, Egypt, or other countries, and let them take priority over the Scriptures. However, these documents can enlighten what the Scriptures are saying because the biblical writers, living at the time that they did when this knowledge was available, often assumed the knowledge that was true then but not true now. As we move into New Testament studies, in dealing with books like Corinthians, it is good to know the historical frame of reference and the culture of the Greek city of Corinth. To have a better understanding of many parts of the New Testament, it is wise to have an understanding of Greek history and culture, not to mention language, since God chose to produce the New Testament in Greek. To better understand the issues of Roman cohorts, Roman centurions, and the way Pilate conducted his trial of Jesus, it is helpful to know something about Roman jurisprudence. No true student of the Bible denies that it is helpful to get into these Babylonian, Assyrian, Egyptian, Canaanite, Roman and Greek backgrounds to get a better understanding of the New Testament. This is not to say the Bible cannot be understood apart from it. The point is, there will be many gaps of knowledge and often some misunderstandings of the Scriptures if these backgrounds are ignored. All JB says is that the same thing should be true when dealing with the Jewish backgrounds of biblical studies. While much of what Paul wrote had to deal with issues of the Greek and Roman backgrounds, the life of Jesus did not play itself out in the framework of a Greek and Roman culture, but a Jewish culture, and a very specific type of Jewish culture: that of first century Israel. Throughout all four gospels things were said the way they were said, things happened the way they happened, and things were written the way they were written because of a specific Jewish frame of reference. Thus, to have a better understanding of Scripture it is important not to ignore this background any more than we should ignore the other backgrounds. The problem is that usually the Jewish background is the one area that has been ignored. If the Wendys had read some of Ariel Ministries’ manuscripts, such as “The Birth of the Messiah,” which discusses the meaning of the Logos, or the manuscript, “Nicodemus: A Rabbi’s Quest,” or even listened to our shorter version of the tape series entitled, “The Highlights of the Life of Christ From a Jewish Perspective,” they would have seen that that is all we are doing: presenting the Jewish frame of reference behind statements of Scripture. If this background had not been ignored, there would have been a lot less division and splits within even the Protestant Church. But because of their anti-Semitism, the Wendys wished to avoid any concept of Jewishness in the Bible and rather preferred to write a scathing “expos ƒ ©” of Jewish believers, rather than find out what it is we really stand for. Therefore, they show no desire to even investigate the possibility of Jewish backgrounds because their anti-Semitism will not allow them to do so. Instead, what they choose to do is put everything under the umbrella of HRM and so any talk of a Jewish frame of reference immediately means it must be part of HRM and is, therefore, to be rejected. But these are two separate issues and many of us involved
in JB have come out both in print and otherwise against the HRM (Ariel Ministries and Prayer for Israel based out of England being just two of many examples). Finally, despite what the magazine may imply, the vast majority of the leaders and speakers of HRM are Gentiles, not Jews, while those who are part of JB include both Jewish and Gentile believers. You will not find that statement anywhere in the magazine. Instead, everything is put under the HRM umbrella and made part of a worldwide Jewish or Messianic Jewish conspiracy to take over the church.
Sixth Observation: Another issue is the Wendys’ reference to the Protestant Reformation. In examples I will point out in the more detailed section of this response, the Wendys consistently present the Protestant Reformation as also being monolithic, always standing on the same point of the same issue. The Protestant Reformation is presented by the Wendys as all standing for the same position and the Reformers all stood together, believing the same things. One only has to read the Reformists to see that nothing is farther from the truth. Within the Reformation, the Reformers and their disciples began to disagree on many issues, including the issues of baptism, communion, church government, predestination and free will; and they continued a great number of the teachings from Roman Catholicism without actually ever evaluating or “reforming” other doctrines, such as sprinkling, infant baptism and Amillennialism, not to mention many other examples I could cite. Again, I will point these out in the more detailed segment of this response. But one should know up front, as an observation, that the Wendys tend to present the Protestant Reformation as being uniform in their theology, which it never was, and that is why very quickly Protestantism developed into a multitude of denominations.
Seventh Observation: Another observation that must be made so that things are clear is the issue of the King James Version. Among those who adhere to the King James Bible, one must distinguish two different groups. The first group is a legitimate group and there is what I would call a legitimate King James Version adherence; but there is also a cultic King James Only element that has no true legitimacy and is rejected by the first King James group. The Wendys represent the latter group and represent the King James Only cult, which must be distinguished from the more legitimate King James Movement. I will define the two different groups so it is understood how I will be using these terms in the remainder of this response. Without going into all of the technical issues, the key issue here does not really involve the Old Testament since all translations are essentially based upon the Masoretic Text, but it is a controversy only over the New Testament. The issue boils down to: Which is the better and more authentic of two major families of Greek texts? The first family is represented by the Textus Receptus and the Majority Text. (Members of the King James cult tend to make the two the same, but they are actually not the same but do belong to the same basic family.) These are later manuscripts. There is another family of manuscripts that are much older and most of the modern translations tend to be based on these other texts. The legitimate King James Movement believes that the Textus Receptus and the Majority Text are better witnesses to the original and, therefore, prefer a New Testament translation based upon those texts. Other scholars disagree and feel that although there is less of it, the older the text is the more genuine it is and, therefore, prefer translations based upon the other families of text and translations, such as the American Standard Version of 1901, the New American Standard Bible, and others. The legitimate King James Version Movement holds to the view that it is the Textus Receptus and the Majority Text that are the best Greek texts of the New Testament and, therefore, prefer it. They do not necessarily believe that the King James Version of 1611 is the best translation of these texts and, therefore, scholars who prefer this view have put out the New King James Version based upon the same Greek family of texts from which the Old King James Version was translated, but have provided a more accurate translation than the King James Version. These scholars, I believe, have a legitimate argument and although I am not persuaded, I have a high respect for their view because it is based upon honest scholarship. However, they do not believe in the inspiration of the King James Version in English. They simply believe that the Greek text behind the King James Version is the better one, but they only hold to the inspiration of the original Greek autographs, and they do not hold to the inspiration of any translation, be it the Latin Vulgate or the King James Version. As I said, this is a view I can highly respect and do respect. But the cultic King James Only Movement is not the same. They not only teach that the Textus Receptus and the Majority Text (which they often make one and the same) are the only inspired texts, they go on to say that God also inspired the translation of the English King James Version: the only verbally inspired English version is the King James Version and, therefore, any changes in the King James Version would be apostasy. That is why these people reject even the New King James Version, though it is based upon the same Greek textual witness. But it is the belief that the King James Version itself is verbally inspired that makes them cultic and gives them a cultic mindset and I will point out this mindset as I go through the detailed version of this response. As this is read, one should be aware that I am not criticizing the legitimate King James Movement, since they only hold to the inspiration of the original Greek text. My criticism has to do with the King James Only cult which claims it is inspired, although it often sharply disagrees with the Hebrew text, and the significance is that there is no argument about which Hebrew text to use. The King James Only view is represented by Ruckmanism, Gail Riplinger and, of course, the Wendys. As we shall see, the Wendys clearly present a very cultic mindset. One of the common characteristics of cults is a “we against the world” mindset and this comes out several times in the magazine. Also part of a cultic mentality is “we alone have the truth and, therefore, we are the only remnant left and there is no one else in the world adhering to our truth.” This too comes out more than once in the magazine. One observation I have been able to make about the King James Only cult is that they spend far more time being concerned about the translation one uses rather than being concerned about the content of Scripture. Thus, they spend more time criticizing and attacking those who do not believe in the verbal inspiration of the King James Version rather than dealing with the content of Scripture. In this entire 96-page diatribe, there is not one page devoted to teaching Scripture nor is there any exposition of any biblical text. It is nothing but one attack after another, often against those who have sacrificed a lot for the sake of Christ, but since they got saved using the wrong translation of the Bible, they must be attacked as viciously as possible.
Eighth Observation: The last observation is to note how they frequently misrepresent Fundamentalism. They give a rather skewed definition of the Fundamentalist Movement and, therefore, those who do not fit their definition of it are not true Fundamentalists. Therefore, it is important that I clearly spell out what the Fundamentalist Movement has always stood for since I have always been part of that same movement. The Fundamentalist Movement was a specific response to Liberalism that began taking over denominations throughout the world. As more and more seminaries were becoming liberal, producing liberal ministers for denominational churches, more and more churches became liberal as well. At first the Bible believers within these denominations tried to fight Liberalism from within and made up a list of what was called, “The Five Fundamentals of the Faith.” It was from this that the term “Fundamentalist” was coined. Fundamentalists were those who believed the basics of the faith and the Liberals (in those days they were known as Modernists) did not believe, or rejected, the fundamentals of the faith. After over a decade of struggle, when it became apparent to the Fundamentalists that the Liberals or Modernists were in control of the denominational schools and denominational higher offices, for the most part gave up the fight within the denominations. While some stayed, many others pulled out of the denominations and started new Bible believing denominations. Out of the American Baptist Convention came the Bible believing General Association of Regular Baptists (GARB), and I am a graduate of Cedarville College (now Cedarville University) which is a GARB school. Other Fundamentalists chose not to form new denominations, but rather Independent Fundamental Churches in the U.S.A. normally referred to as Bible Churches. While these groups do not believe in a denominational hierarchy, they still joined a fellowship of Bible believing churches and this fellowship became known as the Independent Fundamental Churches of America (IFCA). As the fellowship grew beyond the borders of the U.S.A., the name was changed to reflect its international appeal and so it is now known as IFCA International. I am ordained by an IFCA church and I am a member of the IFCA and so I am aligned both with the general Messianic Movement, as I am a Messianic Jew, but I am also aligned with the Fundamentalists and a member of the IFCA in good standing. What this shows is that being a member of the Messianic Movement by itself does not make one a non-Fundamentalist as the Wendys might imply in the Despatch Magazine. There are also Baptist Churches in the IFCA, but only those Baptist Churches that are fundamental are allowed to join. By the same token, there are Messianic Jews in the IFCA, but only those Messianic Jews who are fundamental are allowed to join. Being a Fundamentalist does not exclude one from being a Messianic Jew any more than being a Fundamentalist will exclude one from being a Baptist. It boils down to what one believes about the fundamentals of the faith. In connection with what was said in the previous observation, one more thing should be clearly noted about the Fundamentalist Movement. Part of Fundamentalism is the affirmation of the verbal inspiration of Scripture. However, it was always part of Fundamentalism to teach that the verbal inspiration was only with the original autographs in their original languages and that no translation in any language shares verbal inspiration. The great Fundamentalist Movement that held to the faith once delivered up to the saints and gave up so much for their stand for the Word of God never ever claimed the verbal inspiration of any translation, including the King James Version. But they firmly affirmed the verbal inspiration of the original autographs that were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek; but no translation, including the King James English translation, was ever considered verbally inspired. This is important because the Wendys keep implying that part of Fundamentalism is the acceptance of the King James Version as the inspired English text. Therefore, if one does not accept the Old King James Version, he is not a Fundamentalist, according to the Wendys. But nothing could be farther from the truth and anyone knowledgeable of the Fundamentalist Movement can see that the Fundamentalists have often used other translations besides the King James Version, and even those who did use the King James Version often would have to say that here and there the verse is not translated correctly according to the Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek texts. I am a Fundamentalist. I believe in the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures. When I read my Hebrew Bible and it contradicts the King James Version, I will give my Hebrew Bible priority over the King James Version.
With these observations made, I am now ready to respond to more specific issues raised by the Wendys in the Despatch. As stated earlier, I will do this in the same page order as the issues come up.